Summerfest Review: Gary Clark Jr., Fun & More

Reporting from Milwaukee with sets from Gary Clark, Jr., Ben Folds 5 and Fun!

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

Milwaukee’s massive Summerfest rolled on through its first week along the city’s sizzling lakefront this week with capacity performances of Gary Clark Jr., Ben Folds 5 and Fun.

Omnipresent 90 degree heat wasn’t keeping the crowds down, but it was keeping the beer flowing along the side stages featuring some of the biggest indie and emerging bands currently on tour.

On the Summerfest Rock Stage, up and coming singer, guitarist songwriter and (sometimes) actor Gary Clark, Jr. Called by some a savior of the blues, but that’s an easy out. It’s difficult to describe the musical mix Clark and his band produce.

He and his crew have been on the major summer music festival tour for a while, and the capacity crowd was ready to roll. Guitar never disappointed with his virtuoso guitar playing. But his band’s sound is one part blues, one part rock, one part meandering improv and one part soul. The end experience was easily one of the most eclectic to hit MIlwaukee in a while.

The Ben Folds Five hadn’t played Summerfest in years. In fact, they haven’t played in the U.S. too much lately. But the grooving pop group took to the new BMO Harris Pavilion outside the festival’s mainstage. Passersby joined the band’s dedicated following as Ben Folds is well-known even in Milwaukee’s more earthy music scene.

Folds took his seat behind his piano as the truly seasoned and relaxed front man. And relaxed is the key word. The Ben Folds Five makes Perry Como look like Johnny Rotten, but that lounging vibe fits for a free music festival with a lake view and more booze than Great Lakes Distillery.

Moving on to the Miller Lite Oasis, the crowds started out wall to wall (or mug to mug) and only grew bigger as Fun took the stage. Following their massively successful song, “We Are Young,” Fun was a big get for the Summerfest booking agents. But, they don’t yet have the name recognition value with casual music fans.

So, it was a good laugh watching passing Summerfest visitors intrigued by Fun’s indie anthems – only to react with that eureka moment as Fun fired up their massively popular single.

That’s the appeal of Summerfest. Once you pay at the gate, you never know who you’re going to see or what you’re going to hear.